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The Transect Line - March/April 2013 Newsletter Archive
Stranded: Southern California Sea Lion Pups Dolphin Callers Screech to Win
Reef Check Spotlight: US Releases Implementation Plan for National Ocean Policy Deploying Transects, Hunting Lionfish and Establishing a Coral Nursery with Reef Check DR
Sign Up for a Reef Check California Training Upcoming Event: Save the Reefs, Save the Oceans Gala

Stranded: Southern California Sea Lion Pups
By Brianne Billups, Reef Check California SoCal Volunteer Coordinator

A rare event is currently taking place along the Southern California coast. Since January of this year, more than 1,300 malnourished sea lion pups have come ashore in the area spanning from Santa Barbara to San Diego. Marine mammal rescue centers have been overwhelmed by the extraordinarily high numbers of sea lions coming into their facilities. This has led the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to declare an "unusual mortality event".

The stranded sea lion pups were born last summer and it is abnormal to see them on coastal beaches now, considering they should be with their mothers at the Channel Islands. Sea lions born during that time typically don’t wean until April or May. In general, they are turning up alive but severely emaciated, some weighing less than 20 pounds when they should be well over 50 pounds at this point in their development, marine officials say.

Due to the fact that almost all of the stranded pups are extremely underweight, scientists believe the mass stranding is occurring since they are not getting enough food. Environmental conditions in the area are being studied for clues as to why the pups are starving. Scientists are focusing their investigation on factors such as changes in algae growth, wind patterns and sea surface temperature, which have led to sea lion stranding epidemics during years past.

The leading hypothesis is that particular sea conditions are cutting the sea lion pups' main food supply of anchovies and sardines. While adult sea lions and other marine mammals are more adaptable and can change their feeding habits in the face of a shortage, pups are more limited in how far they can travel for food and what they can eat. As part of their investigation, scientists are also testing blood and tissue samples for bacterial, viral and other infectious agents as well as traces of radioactivity.

While the exact cause of the high numbers of sea lion strandings is still to be determined, scientists are working diligently to pinpoint a reason. In the meantime, rescue centers are working at their maximum capacity to release rehabilitated pups back into the wild.

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Reef Check Spotlight: US Releases Implementation Plan for National Ocean Policy
Earlier this month, the Obama Administration released its final plan for putting the National Ocean Policy into action.

Established in 2010, the National Ocean Policy envisioned "an America whose stewardship ensures that the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes are healthy and resilient, safe and productive, and understood and treasured so as to promote the well being, prosperity, and security of present and future generations." The policy states that Federal agencies will “ensure the protection, maintenance, and restoration of the health of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources, enhance the sustainability of ocean and coastal economies, preserve our maritime heritage, support sustainable uses and access, provide for adaptive management to enhance our understanding of and capacity to respond to climate change and ocean acidification, and coordinate with our national security and foreign policy interests.”

In January 2012, a draft National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan was released and public comments on the plan were solicited, as well as input from stakeholders from all marine sectors. The plan identified key actions toward fulfilling the plan’s vision.

The final implementation plan released on April 16, 2013 focuses on improving coordination to speed Federal permitting decisions; better manage the ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources that drive so much of our economy; develop and disseminate sound scientific information that local communities, industries, and decision-makers can use; and collaborate more effectively with State, Tribal, and local partners, marine industries, and other stakeholders. The Plan also ensures the many Federal agencies involved in ocean management work together without creating any new regulations or authorities.

“With increasing demands on our ocean, we must improve how we work together, share information, and plan smartly to grow our economy, keep our ocean healthy, and enjoy the highest benefits from our ocean resources, now and in the future,” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality and Co-Chair of the National Ocean Council, the interagency council established in 2010 to oversee the Policy’s implementation.

“Science is the foundation upon which sound management of ocean and coastal resources is based,” said John P. Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Co-Chair of the National Ocean Council. “The President’s National Ocean Policy and the new implementation plan will help advance relevant science and its application to decision-making to strengthen the economies of our coastal regions while increasing their resilience and sustaining their resources.”

The oceans and coasts of the United States support tens of millions of jobs and contribute trillions of dollars a year to the national economy through tourism, development, commercial fishing, recreational fishing and boating, energy, shipping, and other activities. Competition for increasingly vulnerable ocean resources is growing, presenting challenges for Federal agencies that follow and enforce more than 100 ocean-related laws. The final Implementation Plan describes specific actions Federal agencies will take to address key ocean challenges, give states and communities greater input in Federal decisions, streamline Federal operations, save taxpayer dollars, and promote economic growth.

To read the Implementation Plan, visit www.whitehouse.gov/oceans.

Sources:
“Obama Administration Releases Plan to Promote Ocean Economy and Resilience” Press Release
Department of the Interior National Ocean Policy webpage


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Sign Up for a Reef Check California Training
The 2013 Reef Check California training season has begun! If you are a California diver interested in getting involved in citizen science, then our rocky reef monitoring program may be for you! There are a limited number of spaces left for trainings in San Diego, Orange County, Monterey, San Francisco and Santa Rosa; reserve your spot today by visiting the training registration page at http://reefcheck.org/rcca/training_schedule.php.

The Reef Check California four-day training course is designed to provide participants with the skills and experience to accurately complete the Reef Check California survey protocol. Training includes a combination of classroom and field sessions and upon successful completion, divers will be eligible to obtain a Reef Check California EcoDiver Specialty Certification (NAUI) and contribute to our data collection efforts. Prerequisites for the training include proof of dive certification and at least 30 lifetime dives (minimum of 15 in cold water), with at least 6 dives within the last year and a minimum of 16 years of age. Please visit http://reefcheck.org/rcca/Training_Course_Outline.php for additional information on the course.

Dolphin Callers Screech to Win
On Saturday, April 27 contestants of all ages lined up to demonstrate their dolphin calling skills at the first annual Dolphin Call Contest, hosted by Body Glove and Reef Check. The more than 200 contestants who competed had their own unique calling techniques – everything from clucking sounds to screeching and whistling to cackling. The large crowd that gathered as contestants tried out was thoroughly entertained.

The contestants were judged on four main criteria – realism, variety of call types, length and showmanship. The competition was fierce, and after a tally of the overall combined judges scores for each contestant, the top ten dolphin callers were selected as winners. The winners included six kids and four adults – Jessica Jordan, Anthony Torella, Scott Roberts, Alex Paredes, Malak Hijaz, Cooper Roth, Nicole and Rachel (duo), Emily Driskill and Jillian French. The winner with the highest score received the grand prize of a wet suit donated by Body Glove.

“We are so pleased by the great participation and overwhelming enthusiasm by the contestants for the first annual Dolphin Call Contest. Our goal was to host a fun event, while educating the public about the plight of coral reefs worldwide and California’s rocky reefs. We accomplished both,” said Dr. Gregor Hodgson, founder and executive director for the Reef Check Foundation.

The original dolphin call lady herself, two-time Oscar nominated singer/songwriter Carol Connors was on hand to give the dolphin callers a few pointers and to perform her song, “The Dolphins are Coming, Let the Magic Begin.” U.S. Congressman Henry Waxman, a staunch supporter of environmental issues dropped by the contest to say a few words and he even got into the spirit of the contest and belted out a dolphin call. Congressman Waxman has just launched the Safe Climate Caucus of 25 members which has pledged to raise the issue of climate change every day on the house floor.

Many thanks to all who participated, especially the volunteers who helped throughout the day! Click here to view photos from the event. Video can be watched here.

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Deploying Transects, Hunting Lionfish and Establishing a Coral Nursery with Reef Check DR

By Matthew Schumm & Beth Beyer - Reef Check DR volunteers

This April, a team of families from Chicago, Illinois trained as EcoDiver volunteers and conducted research with Reef Check Dominican Republic. In preparation for the trip, the students studied extensively the cultural, political, and economic history of the Dominican Republic. Students also explored the biology of coral reef organisms, with older students taking the lead in developing study materials and teaching younger participants about the coral reef ecosystem. Students were able to learn more about marine science through participation in labs at the John G. Shedd Aquarium and opportunities to meet with postdoctoral researchers working at the Aquarium as part of their overall participation with the Coral Reef Regeneration project.

In addition to collecting Reef Check data on the health of the reefs at Parque Nacional Submarino La Caleta, the EcoDiver volunteers had an opportunity to work with Reef Check Dominican Republic’s Dr. Ruben Torres to establish a “nursery” for staghorn Acropora coral. Coral fragments from the Silver Banks were carefully transported to La Caleta and transplanted into our nursery in hopes of saving and regenerating this coral for growth efforts in La Caleta and other regions around the Dominican Republic.

Populations of lionfish, a species invasive to the Caribbean, have grown unchecked in Dominican waters due to a lack of natural predation. Lionfish prey on a variety of ecologically and economically important reef fish, including the juveniles of parrotfish, damselfish and other herbivores that control reef algae. Our team of Reef Check EcoDivers had a chance to take part in a Lionfish tournament sponsored by Sea Savers Dominican Republic, a program facilitated by students from the Carol Morgan School of Santo Domingo. By capturing and eating lionfish, we made a small difference in protecting the health of the coral reefs in the Dominican Republic.

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Upcoming Event: Save the Reefs, Save the Oceans Gala

Save the Reefs, Save the Oceans Gala
September 19, 2013
Santa Monica, California

This year's Save the Reefs, Save the Oceans Reef Check Gala will be held Thursday, September 19 at the Jonathan Beach Club in Santa Monica, California. The evening will recognize the contributions of our “Heroes of the Reef” each having demonstrated an exemplary commitment to ocean conservation.

Scuba diving and surfing legend Bob Meistrell will be honored in celebration of the 60th anniversary of his co-founding of Body Glove and California’s surf culture with his twin brother, Bill. Their development of the first practical wetsuit has allowed millions of people around the world to comfortably enjoy our reefs and oceans.

Dirk Burcham will be honored with the Citizen Scientist of the Year Award for his commitment and dedication to marine conservation as a Reef Check California volunteer diver. For the past four years, Dirk has led all southern California Reef Checkers in completing the most survey transects.

Sponsorship opportunities are available. We are also looking for donated items for our live and silent auctions. Please contact rcinfo@reefcheck.org or 1-310-230-2371 for information on how to participate.

Proceeds from the gala will fund educational programs for children and the conservation of tropical coral reefs and California rocky reefs.


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